ELEMENTS OF A MIDDLE GRADE NOVEL


ELEMENTS OF A MIDDLE GRADE NOVEL

Natalie Bright

The following list of elements for middle grade novels was a handout from a writing conference. The name or origin of the information is not on the handout, so apologies that I cannot give credit. It’s a helpful list as you are crafting your story for middle grades, defined as a core audience of 8 to 12 year olds or 3rd through 6th grades.

 

  1. Drama!
  2. Imagination.
  3. Use humor.
  4. Write to the age level.
  5. Make place a character.
  6. Make each word resonate.
  7. Bring history alive.
  8. Mix genres.
  9. Craft prose carefully.
  10. Let joy spill out!
Advertisements

Scenes Defined


Scenes Defined

Natalie Bright

Does your scene in your book play like a movie in your head while you write? It takes some concentration and the ability to block out the world around you, but I love it when this happens. I try to focus on every detail, no matter how minute, as I focus on the “moving picture”.

The scene is the unit of story, and in a book usually starts with a character arriving and ends when something has changed. A scene propels the story forward.

  1. Scenes in a book are anchored in a certain place and certain time.
  2. A narrative summary can describe the specifics of your scene.
  3. Scenes usually contain some type of visible action, not just internal thinking from the character.
  4. Do not use italics for internal dialogue, or what your character is “thinking”. Once the standard norm, the point of digging deep is writing inside your character’s head. This one is hard to break. We’ve discussed this several times in our critique meetings. Next time you read a recent release, notice that italics are a thing of the past.
  5. Keep the scene and action moving. No backstory in the first chapter (maybe two). Hook the reader and save the backstory for later.
  6. Skillfully weave your backstory into the story, these can be tension filled scenes into itself.
  7. End scenes (chapters) with a hook—a punchy, pithy statement.

 

Promoting You:  Learning


Promoting You:  Learning

Natalie Bright

One of the best ways to promote better is to keep learning about your craft. In this day and age, it seems at the point I feel comfortable with a new tool, it’s time to move on to something better and different. You don’t have to spend long hours to promote yourself, just pick one thing, simple or huge, to do every day.

Below is my to do list for this week under the topic of Learning:

  1. Become more proficient with Canva for creating and updating my headers for Twitter and Facebook
  2. Registered for a Word Alchemy workshop with Texas High Plains Writers, August 19 in Amarillo.
  3. Began an online class taught by a successful Indie Author to learn her social media process.  It is a monthly investment in my work and my future. Here’s the information. https://masteringselfpublishing.com/

Join me every Monday for simple tips that you can do every day to better promote yourself and your work.  Moving onward…

 

A Scene Defined


A Scene Defined

Natalie Bright

The scene is the unit of story, and in a book usually starts with a character arriving and ends when something has changed. A scene propels the story forward.

  1. Scenes in a book are anchored in a certain place and certain time.
  2. A narrative summary can describe the specifics of your scene.
  3. Scenes usually contain some type of visible action, not just internal thinking from the character.
  4. Do not use italics for internal dialogue, or what your character is “thinking”. Once the standard norm, the point of digging deep is writing inside your character’s head.
  5. Keep the scene and action moving. No backstory in the first chapter (maybe two). Hook the reader, and save the backstory for later.
  6. Skillfully weave your backstory into the story, these can be tension filled scenes into itself.
  7. End scenes (chapters) with a hook—a punchy, pithy statement.

Does your scene play like a movie in your head?

Head-Jump Point of View


 

Head-Jump Point of View

Natalie Bright

I am alternating chapters between two main characters points of view, and in the first draft I used third person for one character and first person for the other. The reason I used first person is the idea of digging deeper into that character who has a lot of inner conflict. He is very complex and I want the reader to understand that. When using first person point of view, it’s harder to “head-jump” from one character to the next, however it is a challenge to find something to replace the repetitive “I” word. And now I’m rethinking the whole thing during the editing process. Perhaps I will rewrite those chapters and keep it all in third person. And then there are the overlapping scenes; the action from one character’s viewpoint and then the same scene interpreted by the other character’s point of view. I like books with that perspective when it is well done. The problem will be to make sure I stay in one character’s head for that one scene and chapter, and not switch.

If you begin the scene in one character’s head and then jump to another character’s head, and then maybe another, your reader will get lost. It is too hard for the reader to stay with your scene. Have you ever been reading and had to go back several pages to figure out where you were and who is talking? I hate when that happens.

The most common situation when writers purposefully “Head-Jump” is in romance scenes, and that is called “turning on a dime”. A common action or item, is that cause of the switch from one character’s head into another. A kiss, for example. When it’s done well, it can be very smooth, but sometimes it can very awkward and disorienting for the reader.

WORDS WITH POTENTAIL


WORDS WITH POTENTAIL

Natalie Bright

At last week’s critique meeting, we listened to a story that had been written many years ago. Even though this writer has improved greatly, it was solid—very entertaining and horrifying—we loved it! The potential is even greater based on the feedback. Written as a short story, it’s going to be part of an anthology. I think this author is on the right track by compiling several of her strongest short stories together in one publication. ( I can hardly wait to buy that book, Nandy Ekle!)
Whatever your work in progress might be, whatever fire is burning in your gut at this very minute, whatever idea deserves your attention, those words can become something entirely different in the future. Keep your mind open to the opportunities. For heaven’s sake, don’t delete it! Even bad writing has potential. You can’t edit a blank page. (Wish I had all of those stories and poems I wrote in college. I tossed that journal years ago.)
After I found my way back to writing, a story I wrote about a cowboy called Cecil was accepted in an anthology published by TCU Press almost 13 years later. There is no way I could have known that I would meet a ranch hand with the same name! Meeting the real-life, horse-riding cowboy named Cecil just added more depth and color to my short story. It needed work and it needed a critique from WordsmithSix peeps, for sure. The story became better because of my experiences a decade later. With the help of my critique group, that short story became good enough for publication.
You may be at a point in your writing when it seems rejection is a clear message to give up your dreams of becoming a published author. The very first words by David Morrell, creator of Rambo, keeps echoing through my brain after I heard his talk at an Oklahoma conference,

“Don’t question the why.”

I share this because I have spent, actually wasted, too many years questioning the why. And now I’m asking myself, why for different reasons. Why didn’t I finish that book? I’m staring at a stack of sticky notes and marked up articles for blog ideas, so why didn’t I write them? There’s no way that I could have known back in 1999 that I’d need material in 2017 for two blogs and three orgnizational newsletters. I would have never imagined that I’d have a talented critique group who could boost my confidence and my words. The struggle to write never ceases. Now I’m faced with a part-time day job that will probably go back to full-time soon, and I’ll be frustratingly juggling writing time. What crazy life is this? Opps, there I go again—questioning the why.

The story is in us. The story picked us. We can’t possibly know why. I have to keep reminding myself to stop stressing and find joy in the process.

“Every story I’ve written was written because I had to write it. Writing stories is like breathing for me, it is my life.”
RAY BRADBURY

Find Natalie’s blogs and articles here:
Blogging every Monday about writing life at wordsmithsix.com
Blogging every Friday about the Texas Panhandle at “Prairie Purview”. Read her blogs at nataliebright.com or on the Amazon Author page.
Sign up for here for the newsletter: nataliebright.com
Natalie is editor of “The Window”, the official newsletter of one of the oldest writing organizations in the country, Texas High Plains Writers, org. 1920 in Amarillo, Texas. Here’s the link. panhandleprowriters.org.

Writing Brains & Scrivener


Writing Brains & Scrivener

Natalie Bright

Scrivener software totally gets my writing brain. The more I work in this software, the more I’m amazed at all it can do.

For example, this morning the opening scene for the second book of my Texas Frontier Series popped in my head. BAM! There it was. I am almost 10,000 words into the first draft and the opening chapter I’ve already written is absolutely wrong. Does this ever happen to you? I kept replaying the new scene in my head, over and over until I could get to the keyboard.

Here’s where Scrivener makes your life easy: Within the file that you designate as chapter, you can add a new text file. The chapters will autromatically renumber when you compile the final document. No renumbering pages or worrying about chapter numbers. No cutting and pasting to shift the work. I have a seperate text file for each scene and these scenes can be moved easily around within the manuscript document. That first scene may not be the opeing by the time I reach 30,000 words. No problem. The ‘scene’ file can be shifted to any order within the project file.

For more explaination, here’s the link to watch a great video from the creator of Scrivener:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=AdwnHo23Ub8

I also recommend the online class, LearnScrivenerFast.com

Stay tuned for more tidbits about this powerful writing tool. Are you using Scrivener? What has been your experience with Scrivener?

Point of View: Omniscient


Point of View: Omniscient

Natalie Bright

“The coffee-room had no other occupant, that forenoon, than the gentleman in brown. His breakfast-table was drawn before the fire, and as he sat, with its light shining on him, waiting for the meal, he sat so still, that he might have been sitting for his portrait.

… He wore an odd little sleek crisp flaxen wig, setting very close to his head: which wig, it is to be presumed, was made of hair, but which looked far more as though it were spun from filaments of silk or glass. His linen, though not of a fineness in accordance with his stockings, was as white as the tops of the waves that broke upon the neighboring beach, or the specks of sail that glinted in the sunlight far at sea.”
The exert above, from A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens, 1946) is an example of storytelling in an omniscient viewpoint.

I’m working on a story with alternating 3rd person and first person, but wondered if I should consider rewrites in omniscient. I need to review point of view to decide, so I’m sharing the information with you as I refresh my memory. Your suggestions and comments are always welcome.

Omniscient Defined

There is no identifiable character observing the scene above and relaying the information. Instead a narrator, who is not identified, tells the tale.

This is not to be confused with head-hopping, where the reader gets into the head of one character, to another, and then back to another. Normally, when the writer changes the viewpoint, or gets into another character’s head, there is a paragraph break or double-double space into a new scene. We’ll take a closer look at head-hopping in a future blog.

With omniscient viewpoint, the narrator conveys the scene without allowing characters to know what they shouldn’t. The narrator in the above example does not let us know the gentleman’s internal thoughts or feelings. We have no idea what he is thinking, however we might have a clue based on his actions.

Here’s another example from Dickens’ The Tale of Two Cities:

“”Good Day!” said Monsieur Defarge, looking down at the white head that bent low over the shoemaking. It was raised for a moment, and a very faint voice responded to the salutation, as if it were at a distance:

“Good day!”

“You are still hard at work, I see?”

After a long silence, the head was lifted for another moment, and the voice replied, “Yes—I am working.” This time, a pair of haggard eyes had looked at the questioner, before the face had dropped again.

The faintness of the voice was pitiable and dreadful…”
As a reader, we are never told what the shoemaker is thinking, but obviously from his actions, he is weary and maybe a little aggravated at the interruption.

Have you writing in Omniscient view point? What difficulties have you encountered?

Thanks for following WordsmithSix!

Brick and Mortar versus the Electronic Age


Brick and Mortar versus the Electronic Age

Natalie Bright

 

I wandered into a used bookstore one evening. The atmosphere, sights, and smells were everything you’d expect—glorious. The owner obviously loved his books and had an impressive inventory. He mentioned that he had over 1,000 more books in the back waiting to be shelved. I shook his hand and handed him a few of my bookmarks. While digging in my purse to find a business card, I had meant to say, “My picture book series about rescue animals are eBooks now, but I will have print books sometime this year. Do you host events for authors?”

I never got past the word “eBooks” because he interrupted me with an emotional rant. “I can’t do anything with an eBook. How do I put an eBook in my store? Don’t you love books? I love books. My customers love books. They want something they can hold them in their hands…” and on it went.

My reply was less than professional because I didn’t really think it through. I said, “I want my bookmarks back,” and then I grabbed them and he held tighter and we had a little tug-o-war with a few people staring, wide eyed and aghast. He said, “They’re mine. I’m not giving them back.” It all ended with a few laughs, hugs because this is Texas after all, and then he showed me the Texana section.

Honestly, I am a professional book hoarder. We added a wall of shelves when we moved specifically to hold my dad’s Time Life Series collection. My uncle tells me that he’s leaving me his book collection someday, and I will gladly make space. My heart flutters with joy when I see a pile of used books; stained pages and tattered covers just waiting to be rediscovered. I will never stop buying print books.

Unfortunately, not all the world is as devoted as the bookstore owner and I. The revelation struck me about five years ago. My part-time office help was complaining about her mother who kept insisting she read a Nicholas Spark book. This straight A student confronted mountains of text books and she didn’t want anything else added to her reading list. So her mother said, “Take my eReader. You’ll really love this story.”

My office helper did in fact love the story, and got an eReader of her own. She became a voracious reader, consuming three to four literary novels a week. We had wonderful talks about authors and their stories. There was me lugging my precious book club hardbacks around, stacking them on the floor around my house and office. There was her on the other hand, with her snazzy eReader in a decorative cover, slipping it in a backpack and taking hundreds of books with her wherever she went.

My teenagers have learned to love books because they’re surrounded at home, but their friends tell me they “don’t like books”. Those same kids are ‘reading’ and sharing tons of memes, blogs, poems, clever bits of prose. As writers, we understand words are words, and that someone wrote those words no matter the form. Perhaps a new generation is discovering the joys of reading but on their own terms.

The Future is Now

Way back in 2010, as an Indi Author, I lugged cases of books to events, visited bookstores, and mailed flyers to school librarians trying to get my name out there. In 2016 I launched a new photo-illustrated picture book series about rescue animals, only to have a lot of mom’s tell me, “We want a print version, too.” With limited funds, I’m learning a new software program so that I can duplicate the stories in a format that will be acceptable. Then there’s the money I’ll need to print a high-quality colored book, which I will worry about later. For now, I just want to learn the software.

Apparently, people still love holding picture books, but families are more mobile, too. They live in efficiency apartments or neat homes where they don’t want the clutter of books. The business of books and publishing is topsy-turvy, frustrating, ulcer inducing, and the worst migraine headache you can imagine. The good news about being a writer today is that there is a world out there needing original, quality content.

A World Full of Readers

I truly believe that more people are ‘reading’ now than ever before. Their focus is on a screen.

My eReader is bursting and yet I’ll probably buy two more .99 cent special promotion books before the day is done. I will do everything I can to support brick and mortar stores, too. I will tirelessly volunteer and attend events at libraries because there is no better place to introduce kids to the joys of reading. I will promote other authors and their books. But, I’m not giving up my electronic reader. There is no going back.

The only way is forward.

 

What’s that Smell?


What’s that Smell?

Natalie Bright

Using the five senses to draw readers into your fictional world is probably something you’ve heard before.

THE SMELLS OF CHRISTMAS

What better time of year brings back more memories than the holidays? Last week the owner of our local Mexican food restaurant shared the memories of his grandmother’s kitchen. She lived in a small house, and kept plastic over the windows for added insulation against the cold winter wind. The smells from her tiny kitchen were overwhelming when he stepped inside. Flour tortillas, sizzling beef, cinnamon, sugar and hot chili peppers. As he described the scene it was almost like I was there. I really miss my grandmother’s kitchen too.

HIGH SCHOOL TIME WARP

About a month ago I was reminded how powerful the five senses can create emotion. I walked into my son’s high school band hall. BAM! It was as if I’d been transported through time.

The sensory overload swept me away. The dusty smell from feet taking countless steps on a carpeted floor. The scent of sweat, with 100+ bodies in one room. A few notes from a trumpet. The solid clank of a locker door. A scale of notes by a clarinet. The constant, unending chatter of young voices.

My heart beat a little faster and my throat closed. My eyes actually misted over. I froze. In my mind’s eye I was back there; the Dimmitt High School band hall. The faces of the Bobcat marching band floated through my mind. If we could only go back to those moments for one day. Would you? I certainly would. I would revisit every sight and sound and horrible smell, and I’d go armed with a notebook this time. I’d write it all down to keep that moment forever ingrained into my memory.

A band director snapped me out of my time warp. “Can I help you?” he asked.

I just stood there, gripping three cases of goldfish snacks. “They go around the corner. First door to the left,” he said.

My journey down memory lane was done. Reality crashed around me.

EMOTION IS A POWERFUL THING

There was one other time when a smell overwhelmed me with emotion. My father has been dead almost fifteen years. He owned a welding shop and I hung out there most every day. Several years ago, I toured a huge plant in New Mexico that made natural gas circulating systems as part of a work related field trip. The entire back portion of the plant was a welding room. I walked through the plastic stipes covering the door into a personal meltdown. The smell of heated metal was overwhelming. My eyes filled with tears and it was all I could do to not sob uncontrollably. My father had suffered a long, slow battle with cancer. He had died at home and the visual image of paramedics carrying his body out of the house will forever haunt me. I have no idea what our tour guide said. We took a slow walk through the space and I honestly did not know if I would be able to hold it together.

EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS

How powerful our emotions can be when something triggers those memories. Think about how this kind of sensory overload might be for your characters. Create a history for them and then bring them crashing back into reality. The memories can be good, or sometimes that smell might recall something horrific.

KICKING THINGS UP A NOTCH

A children’s author, in describing her process, explained that she makes one final pass of her manuscript to add sensory images. Wish I could remember who said that and give credit, but it was one of those invaluable tidbits I picked up at a writer’s conference. At the point her story is solid, she adds even more sight, sounds, and smells which bumps everything up a notch. The reader can’t help but be immersed even more into that fictional world.

May the sights, sounds and smells of the holiday inspire you!

Merry Christmas!

Nataliebright.com